Councillor Brian Lawlor, who lives close to the Scientology Community Centre in Firhouse, south Dublin, had been a vocal critic of the controversial group since learning they were establishing a presence in the area in 2017.
However, over the past couple of years he has appeared in a number of videos made by Scientologists about their work in the area, including painting projects in the community for a local football club and a community garden.
He even appeared in pictures wearing a Scientology Community Centre Volunteer hi-viz jacket.
Cllr Lawlor also sponsored a children’s art competition run by the Scientologists, which took place at the Church’s Community Centre in June, and featured prominently in a 45-minute video made by the group for World Nature Conservation Day last year.
In total, he appeared in multiple video and pictures in ten separate posts on the group’s Facebook page over the past two years where they regularly thanked him for his support and for initiating projects they became involved in.
The Sunday World spoke to Cllr Lawlor last week to ask him if he now supported the controversial group despite his opposition to them in the past.
He said he did not, and he believed they were a cult and will tell them not to use him in any more promotional videos or posts in the future.
“I would tell anyone not to get involved. It’s a cult to me. It’s always going to be a cult and I’d never get involved in it,” he said.
He said he would ask the Scientologists to remove the videos of him and ask them not to post any further promos.
“I want them [the videos] removed. It’s a cult to me. I will say don’t ever use me again and I don’t want to be associated with them.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin previously described Scientology as a cult when the centre was opening in 2017.
He said: “These types of cults can be very damaging to people, particularly to young people. The best way forward needs to be examined, it may not be legislated. I think ultimately in situations like this it is about education.”
Scientology deny they are a cult and describe themselves as a religion. They have invested millions in Ireland over the last few years but there were only 87 people who described themselves as Scientologists in the 2016 census and the figures for this year’s census are to be published soon.
Cllr Lawlor acknowledged that by appearing in videos and posts on their page it could look to others like he was endorsing the group, but he said that was not the case.
He said he first spoke to them in relation to the Dodder Linear Park, part of which went through Scientology property, and they resolved issues in relation to the land.
“That was the first point [of contact] and they had my number,” he said.
He then arranged for Scientologists to help paint a wheelchair accessible garden in Firhouse. Videos show the volunteers in Scientology hi-viz jackets carrying out painting work.
Cllr Lawlor opens the video name checking the Scientologists, who carried out the painting and praising their work.
Scientologist Asia Kuzman then goes on to thank Cllr Lawlor for “leading such a brilliant community initiative”.
Cllr Lawlor told the Sunday World he asked the Scientologists to get involved as they offered to do it for free when other painters were quoting €900 to carry out the work.
“They got a quote for €900 to do the mural and the church [of Scientology] cleaned the park and they had a painter and I said do you want to pay €900 or use one of the girls? [from Scientology] They saved €900.”
He said he is also working with Scientologists in relation to a pitch they have on their land. “They have a GAA pitch there as well now. They’re looking for two local clubs to come in and possibly build an astro pitch in it. I’m working on that myself.”
He also helped arrange for Scientologists to paint murals on containers for local football club Firhouse Carmel FC.
Once again, he appeared in a promotional video made by Scientologists about the project and praised their work while they thanked him for getting them involved.
A week later he appeared in a Scientology video for World Nature Conservation Day and last month sponsored a Scientology children’s art competition which took place in the centre for kids and their families.
Critics of Scientology say the group uses such events to gain good PR and tries to get politicians and other well-known people involved to lend credibility.
In a statement to the Sunday World, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology & Community Centre said: “Over 600 community groups and charities, in addition to many artists, community leaders and local representatives, have collaborated with the Church of Scientology & Community Centre since our opening in October 2017.
“To date, we have held weekly community events and activities welcoming some 160,000 guests. This is in addition to delivering 4,200 Scientology Life Improvement courses to outstanding feedback.
“Cllr. Brian Lawlor is very actively engaged with all in his constituency. He is one of thousands of individuals who have worked with us and is very aware of the work we have done in the local area.”
The spokesperson added that “the only thing we are interested in is helping people on both a personal and community level.”
Scientologists also hosted as fundraising night for Ukraine last Friday week which was attended by the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, Larysa Gerasko.
The event raised around €5,200 for the Candle of Grace charity and featured well-known Ukrainian and Eastern European acts. While the night mostly revolved around the acts, a Scientologist did give a speech to the crowd to claim the Church of Scientology was heavily involved in human rights.
“For decades our churches across the world have been educating others on human rights and have been helping to make those a reality,” they told the crowd.
Lily Luzan from charitable organisation Candle of Grace said she had no involvement in Scientology and was unaware of their operation.
“As far as I know they only hosted. They gave the premises. I don’t even have a clue who they are and what they do. We were invited and we just came.”